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Fast track to innovation and the chequered flag

01 Apr 2014

When Chris Aylett, chief executive of the Motorsport Industry Association, talks about world-beating technology in British motor racing and unique capabilities to drive innovation beyond motorsport, his knowledge is far from theoretical.

In his youth he raced Aston Martins and Chevron B8s, and later one of the most powerful sports cars of its day – the McLaren M8. In fact, he successfully raced his McLaren M8E at 190 miles an hour at the Nürburgring and later set up Steigenberger Supersports, his own race series in Europe.

It was more than a decade ago that the MIA chief executive first began to highlight the innovative potential in British motorsports by claiming the ultimate gas-guzzling activity could actually lead the green agenda. He was met either by indifference or disbelief. “From the very first, a race is usually won by the most innovative person whether it is steam or electric cars,” he explains. “I kept saying to them [the industry], you are experts in the efficient use of energy and lightweight materials. One day the world will want to pay you for that knowledge.”

In parallel with a motorsport campaign on efficient energy use, the MIA executive launched international conferences devoted to low emissions.

Almost unnoticed, at least initially, by the mainstream automotive sector, a cluster of engineering companies have grown up in the UK to service the booming Formula 1 and motorsport industry.

Although there is no precise geography, many are in the South Midlands and Oxford probably marks the epicentre. The racing started on disused airfields after the last war, and then began turning into a major international business with the advent of satellite television and the attendant sponsorship and advertising revenue. Aylett christened the developing engineering cluster – Motorsport Valley.

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